FBI: Maybe we don't need Apple's help in San Bernardino case after all

A judge called off a much-anticipated courtroom showdown between Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and the U.S. Department of Justice after the government said it may be able to unlock the iPhone in question without the company's help.

But Apple's long-running feud with federal prosecutors isn't likely to go away anytime soon.

In an 11th-hour motion, the Justice Department claimed that on Sunday "an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method" for unlocking a phone belonging to one of the killers involved in December's mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. The government hopes to force Apple to assist in the investigation by breaking into the phone.

The Justice Department said continued testing is required to determine whether the unlocking method won't compromise data on the phone. "If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple," the government said. Instead of the hearing that was slated for today, prosecutors said they will file a status report by April 5.

Apple in February defied a judge's order to help unlock the phone at the government's request, with CEO Tim Cook going so far as to post an open letter explaining the company's position that doing so would threaten the security of its customers. And Cook used Apple's media event yesterday before the court postponement was announced to reiterate the company's stance, saying "We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country" to protect data.

But while the San Bernardino case has attracted an enormous amount of attention, it's far from the only legal battle Apple is engaged in with authorities over security and privacy concerns. Last month a New York judge rejected a request by the U.S. government to force the company to help extract data from a locked iPhone in a similar case. And Apple is fighting similar battles against federal prosecutors in at least nine other standoffs across the country.

Prosecutors haven't said how they might be able to unlock the iPhone after insisting for weeks that they need Apple's help, and AppleInsider reported that the company plans to request further information regarding the supposed vulnerability in iOS the Justice Department hopes to exploit. But given the ongoing cases elsewhere between Apple and law-enforcement authorities -- and given a deeply divided American public on the topic -- any resolution of the San Bernardino likely won't lead to an end of the bigger debate.

For more:
- see this L.A. Times report

Related articles:
DoJ: Apple 'deliberately raised technological barriers' in San Bernardino iPhone case
NY judge sides with Apple in case similar to San Bernardino
Verizon sides with Apple against 'backdoor' into phones for law enforcement
Carriers decline to join Facebook, Twitter in backing Apple's defiance of FBI
Apple's Cook opposes order to unlock iPhone linked to San Bernardino shootings

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